Asian Games

Filipino medal hopefuls out to surprise in Hangzhou Asian Games 

Ariel Ian Clarito

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Filipino medal hopefuls out to surprise in Hangzhou Asian Games 

TOP TIER. Elite Filipino athletes (from left) Hidilyn DIaz, EJ Obiena, and Margielyn Didal aim to continue to make the country proud.


The Philippines targets to surpass its four-gold haul in the previous Asian Games, with world No. 2 pole vaulter EJ Obiena, Olympic weightlifting champion Hidilyn Diaz, and skateboarding star Margielyn Didal leading this year’s charge in Hangzhou

MANILA, Philippines – Four golds, two silvers, and 15 bronzes. This was the medal haul of the Philippines from the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia. 

It was the country’s best showing since the 1962 Asian Games, which incidentally, was also hosted by Jakarta, when the country won seven golds and 37 total medals.

The goal this year in the Hangzhou Asian Games is, obviously, to better the country’s performance. And the writing on the wall indicates this lofty ambition is within reach.  

Two previous gold medalists, Hidilyn Diaz of weightlifting and Margielyn Didal of skateboarding, will be at the forefront of the Philippine campaign along with world No. 2 pole vaulter EJ Obiena

Although Diaz and Didal remain as serious medal contenders, the path to the gold will be more arduous this time. 

Diaz, who won the 2018 Asian Games gold in the women’s 53kg, will move up to the 59kg division where she will be up against bigger and heavier competition.

Didal, coming off a yearlong layoff due to injury, currently just sits at 43rd in the world rankings of the skateboarding street. 

Fourteen other Asians also rank higher than Didal, including world No. 1 Momiji Nishiya. Nine of these 14 are Japanese, four are Chinese, and one South Korean.

Athletics drought

It will be Obiena, though, who’s the country’s best bet to strike gold. 

Last June, Obiena reset his own Asian record by leaping past 6 meters for the first time to capture gold in the Bergen Jump Challenge in Norway. He recorded the same height in the World Athletics Championships last August where he bagged the silver.

The Filipino pole vault star will be the overwhelming favorite not only to win the gold but also to break the Asian Games record of 5.7m. 

Obiena, barring any mishap, will be untouchable in the Asian Games. His biggest rivals could be Huang Bocai of China, whose career best is just 5.75m set in 2019. 

During the 2023 Asian Athletic Championships last July where Obiena grabbed the gold with a leap of 5.91m, silver medalist Hussain Asim Alhizam of Saudi Arabia could only muster a leap of 5.56m. 

Rising Filipina athletics bet Robyn Brown, meanwhile, also pulled off a stunner in the same continental event when she won the gold in the women’s 400m hurdles. 

Both Brown and Obiena are in position to help end the country’s drought in athletics. 

The last time the Philippines copped an athletics medal in the Asian Games was in 1994 when the legendary Elma Muros took home the bronze in the women’s long jump.

Best swimming bet

Aside from athletics, the Philippines will look to end its medal drought in swimming as the country last won when Ryan Papa earned two bronze medals in the backstroke events during the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok. 

In new recruit Kayla Sanchez, the 25-year dry spell in the pool might just be watered. 

Sanchez, who won a silver and bronze in the freestyle relays for Canada in the Tokyo Olympics, will swim for individual glory this time around under the Philippine flag. 

The Filipino-Canadian clocked 53.59 seconds in the 100m freestyle during the 2022 World Championship. Her time is better than the 54.17s that Yang Junxuan of China registered in winning bronze at the 2018 Asian Games. 

Sanchez has a personal best of 53.12s. This season, only Siobhan Haughey of Hong Kong has swam faster at 52.50s.

Elite boxers, top karatekas

But combat sports and martial arts may also deliver medal surprises for the Philippines in this edition.

Tokyo Olympics medalists Nesthy Petecio, Carlo Paalam, and Eumir Marcial headline the elite boxing team which is capable of punching their way to multiple medals of different colors. 

Jiu-jitsu will be bannered by two world champions, Annie Ramirez and Meggie Ochoa, who will be among the favorites in their respective weight categories. 

Karate will be spearheaded by three top-notch female karatekas: Junna Tsukii, Jamie Lim, and Sakura Alforte.  

The 20-year-old Alforte, a 2023 Southeast Asian Games gold medalist, is currently the world No. 1 in the kata female under-21 category.

Tsukii, a former World Games gold medalist in the female kumite -50kg category, also won a silver in the 2021 Asian Karate Championship. 

Lim, a 2023 SEA Games gold winner like Alforte, also won silver in the female kumite -61kg of the Asian Karate Championship. 

The taekwondo team, meanwhile, will look to surpass its three bronze medals in the 2018 Asian Games. 

Kiyomi Watanabe has seen her world ranking plunge outside the top 100 recently, but she remains a formidable force in the Asian scene. She won one of the country’s two silver medals in the previous Asian Games. 

Five-time SEA Games champion Agatha Wong, one of the returning Asian Games bronze medalists, will target a higher medal finish in women’s taijiquan.

Team sports

The more popular team sports such as men’s basketball, women’s football, and men’s volleyball will feature Philippine squads in transition, so the prospect of medaling might not be as high.

But the softball teams are capable of competing with the best in the region. 

The men’s softball team is currently 15th in the latest world ranking, third highest in Asia next to world No. 3 Japan and world No. 14 Singapore. 

The women’s team, on the other hand, is 30th in the world, the fourth highest in Asia behind Japan, Chinese Taipei, and China. 

There might be other athletes, though, who just might outdo themselves and deliver more medals. 

Philippine athletics officials believe that on a good day, long jumper Janry Ubas will be good enough to earn at least a bronze. 

Vanessa Sarno also won three silvers in the Asian Weightlifting Championships last May. Similar to Diaz, though, Sarno will be competing in a higher weight category in the Asian Games. 

The next two weeks will be exciting times anew for Philippine sports.

The right draw, coupled with the right breaks, could spell the difference between winning and losing, between having a good run in the Asian Games, or surpassing what was an outstanding performance from our athletes in the 2018 edition. –  

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